The recent local elections have sparked a lot of debate about why so few people turned out to exercise their democratic right to vote. In many places it was a small minority of people who bothered to turn out to put their cross on the ballot paper. Many academics will provide detailed explanations as to why this happened but I wondered if there was something simpler behind it.
When I was at school and college there was a lot of discussion around the political system and voting, and it was something that people were keen to be able to do as part of the passage into adulthood. I can’t say that as an 18-year-old I thought that I could change the world with one vote, but voting was something that I wanted to do because it demonstrated me growing up, along with other things such as going into a pub and learning to drive.
Over recent years we have stopped talking about politics beyond the reports on news and current affairs programmes. I can’t imagine the sitcom Yes Minister being penned in 2012, and if it was written it would never be shown. The reasons behind this is that either people are just not interested or they don’t have enough information so become disinterested because they don’t understand enough about the political system.
This led me to think about the communication that takes place around elections. The local elections were covered in the local and national media, but there was little about it on social networks. There was nothing I found on social media that made the local elections interesting and understandable. The approach appeared to be ‘if you want to vote it’s up to you’. So could some communication activity have made a difference? I think so. For one thing it could have been used to engage people in the whole process of voting. It could have explained how local councils work, and also in many cities could have done more to discuss the pros and cons of having an elected mayor.
This was definitely a missed opportunity. But it was probably missed because in these times of austerity no-one wants to be seen to be spending money to communicate anything, let alone communicating about the importance of voting. And more than that there was no-one able to lead this work. The end result was what appeared to be a level of apathy across the country. Did this have to be the case – no, but only if we start to talk about the political system and make it meaningful and interesting to everyone.